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With more experience under his belt, 20-year-old Michieletto could be even more productive for Italy this season

The 2022 Volleyball Nations League will take place across a 55-day period from May 31 to July 24 and feature opportunities for the sport's rising stars to shine as the top 32 teams in the world participate in this year's edition of the competition.

Since the inaugural edition of the VNL in 2018, young players have featured prominently in the competition, producing some impressive performances. Here are some of the athletes who could make their mark in 2022.

Men

Alessandro Michieletto (Italy)

The Italian outside hitter made a real splash last year and it's obvious he's the real deal. But considering he’s just 20, it’s impossible not to wonder how much more he can offer this season, especially with him likely to become more of a centrepiece of the Italian team after the retirement of Osmany Juantorena.

Manuel Armoa (Argentina)

Argentina is stacked at the outside hitter position with Tokyo medallists Facundo Conte, Ezequiel Palacios and Nicolas Mendez, but the 19-year-old Armoa has the potential to earn a spot on the South American team. A member of the Dream Team at last year’s FIVB Volleyball U21 World Championship, he was the top scorer and the MVP of the Argentinean League, guiding UPCN San Juan to their ninth title.

Karol Urbanowicz (Poland)

Urbanowicz is in a similar position to Armoa’s. He also made it into the U21 World Championship Dream Team. He faces strong competition, however, at the senior level with Karol Klos, Mateusz Bienieck and Jakub Kochanowski all ahead of him in Poland’s pecking order. The 2m-tall Urbanowicz is an excellent server and hitter.

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Urbanowicz in action during last year's U21 World Championship

Rok Mozic (Slovenia)

Slovenia were the sensations of the 2021 edition of the VNL and this year they can count on an improved Rok Mozic to do well again. The 2m-tall outside hitter, who won the Beach Volleyball U20 European Championship shortly after competing at last year’s VNL, is coming from his first season in the Italian League and should display an even stronger game this year.

Adriano Xavier (Brazil)

Ricardo Lucarelli and Yoandy Leal will likely remain Brazil’s starting outside hitters, but the 20-year-old Adriano is strongly positioned to be the first option behind the two veterans. The 2m-tall outside hitter got some playing time last year at the South American Championship and was the MVP in Brazil’s victory at the U23 Pan American Games.

Women

Dana Rettke (USA)

A 2.04m-tall middle blocker who proved herself in the Italian League straight out of college and took Vero Volley Monza to their first league final, the 23-year-old Rettke has a lot to add to the American team. Her path to a starting spot became possible after the retirement of Foluke Akinradewo, but Rettke should still face strong competition from Olympic champions Haleigh Washington and Chiaka Ogbogu.

Mayu Ishikawa (Japan)

The younger sister of Japan men’s team star Yuki Ishikawa, 22-year-old Mayu put on a solid display at last year’s edition of the VNL, when she had the best serve receiving performance among the women. The 1.73m-tall outside hitter, who is excellent on the backcourt, returns to the team after a solid club season with Toray Arrows and could have a larger role this year.

Ana Cristina Souza (Brazil)

Brazil will feature a new look in the VNL with several members of the team that won silver at last year’s Tokyo Olympics not returning. Although she didn’t play much in Tokyo, the 18-year-old Ana Cristina was at the event and is expected to have a bigger role with the team after the retirements of Natalia Pereira and Fernanda Garay. She also had a successful first club season in Europe, playing for Fenerbahçe.

Geraldine Gonzalez (Dominican Republic)

Gonzalez didn’t make it into the Dominican roster that competed in Tokyo last year, but she was called up for the VNL and was part of the teams that took gold at the NORCECA Championship, the Pan American Cup and the U23 Pan American Games, where she was awarded as the best blocker and best middle blocker. With veterans Annerys Vargas and Lisvel Eve gone, Gonzalez could fight for a starting spot in the team this season.

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Gonzalez captained the Dominican Republic during last year's U20 World Championship

Li Yingying (China)

The 22-year-old left-handed outside hitter has been with the Chinese national team since 2017, but competing for playing time with Zhu Ting, Zhang Changning, Liu Yanhan and Liu Xiatong hasn’t allowed her to be on the court that much. In 2022, the 1.93m-tall Li should play a more prominent role for the team, especially after she was the MVP of the country’s national league.

Top Scorer: Yingying Li